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Medieval names took many forms.

Human Names

Human names tend to use combinations of the following:

e.g. Ingrid, Michael, Giovanni, Ivan, Catherine, Tomas

In early period, Christians tended to take names from the New Testament or saints. Names from the Old Testament (Abraham, Isaac, Moses) were considered the province of Jews, although there were of course exceptions. There are occasional instances of girls being given the names of flowers or precious stones (e.g. Rose, Emerald) but these are unusual until very late in period when the influence of classical literature by way of the Renaissance even occasionally resulted in use of a pagan deity name (e.g. Diane de Poitiers).

  • Locatives
e.g John of London (English), Jhonne Glasgow (Scottish), Jehan de Paris (French), Gunther von Augsberg (German), Juan de Burgos (Spanish)
  • Patronymic/Matronymic (citing your father or mother)
e.g. Thorvaldr Thorgeirsson (Norse), Bernardo di Vincenzo (Italian), Boris Ivanovich (Russian), Ifor ap Dafydd (Cymru/Welsh), Sean U Neill (Irish), John FitzGilbert (Norman--often, but not always (see below) an indicator of illegitimacy)

Depending on the culture, women would use differentiating terminology to indicate "daughter of"

e.g. Sigrid Njalsdatter (Norse), Ceinwen ferch Llewellyn (Cymru/Welsh), Aine inghean Sheain (Irish), Natasha Ivanova (Russian)

One of the best-known examples of a matronymic is that of King Henry II of England, who was also known as Henry FitzEmpress (his mother was the widow of the Holy Roman Emperor and continued to use the title Empress even after she'd married his father, Count Geoffrey of Anjou. Henry was not illegitimate!).

To further confound naming practices, Henry adopted his father's nickname, Plantagenet (due to his habit of wearing a sprig of Planta Genesta (common broom) in his hat) as the name of his dynasty.

  • Clan or family affilation
e.g. O Brien, MacNaughton, di Medici
  • Nicknames
e.g. John Longshanks, Eric the Red, Vlad Dracule
  • Occupational names
e.g. Thomas Wheeler, John Cooper, Edward Carpenter, William Chandler

Which specific names and types of bynames are appropriate for you depends entirely on what you are trying to re-create. The most important factors are the time, place, and culture you want to re-create, but your gender and class are important, too. Not all types of surname were used in all cultures -- many early medieval cultures used no surnames at all. Modern naming customs are generally not a good guide to medieval naming customs. For example, the Spanish custom of multiple given names and compound surnames refering to your mother and father did not come into general use until well after our period.

See also:

Place Names

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